Is the money you've been saving for a place in the country burning a hole in your bankbook because you can't seem to find a farm that you can afford? Maybe you should take a look at northern Minnesota, where good land still sells for under $50 an acre. That how we found the property that became our Minnesota homestead.
My wife and I started our search for acreage in Oregon and northern California, but soon discovered that prices there were sky-high on everything but the largest tracts. So we sent away for the Strout and United real estate catalogs and—after reading them carefully—decided there were only four areas of the United States where land fell within our reach: the Deep South, Appalachia, northern New England, and the upper Midwest.
After hashing over the pro's and con's of homesteading in each region, we agreed to take a closer look at Minnesota and Wisconsin and once again turned to the experts by writing United and requesting a survey of the farms available there. Since we were planning to visit relatives in Minnesota anyway, we asked that the information be mailed to that address.
When we arrived at our relatives' place, we found a stack of folders waiting for us. Of the 200 or so properties described, about 20 seemed especially appealing and the majority of those interesting tracts were in northern Minnesota. We were soon back in the car and heading north.
We talked to several realtors in Bimidji and thought we were asking a lot when we told them we wanted an old farm of about 100 acres, fairly isolated and available for a down payment of less than $1,500. To our happy surprise, several of the agents had something to offer!
The first place we looked at was really nice: 120 acres, mostly wooded, with a small cabin and a shallow well for $4,900 ($1,500 down). The second farm we were shown was even more beautiful: 159 acres, six-room house, two sheds, a deep well and mostly open land for $5,900 ($1,500 down). We were ready to buy but resolved to look further to see if there were any better deals around. There were — and still are!
We checked with real estate agents all over northern Minnesota and in just one week found eight old farms of from 80 to 160 acres. Each place had at least some useable buildings and ranged in price from $6,000 down to a low of $3,500! Terms of sale were usually one-fourth down with five years to pay the balance. And, as an added and unexpected extra, most of the realtors we dealt with were very upfront and helpful.
While we were in the market for a farm we looked into tax forfeited land sales and found even better prices on unimproved land. County tax assessors in Minnesota generally have two lists of tax-due property. One describes acreage which will be offered in the coming auction and for which you must bid, in person, at the sale. The other (and you may have to ask for this one) catalogs land not sold at previous auctions and which you can purchase at any time.
Each parcel of back-tax land is listed by range, township, and section. With this information (and a little help from the assessor) you can locate the property on the county map or in the more-detailed plat book. Ask if aerial photographs are available. They sometimes are and can give you a very specific idea of the topography of the area in which a parcel lies.
The list of tax land also gives the exact acreage of each property and the appraised value of its land, timber, and any buildings left by former owners. This appraised value—land plus timber plus buildings—is the minimum price you may pay for any parcel. If you buy at auction you may have to spend more for a choice tract but if you find something on the "old" list that you like, you can get a real bargain.
At least my wife and I did! An old farm—120 acres unused for ten years—with a seven room house, ten stall barn, separate hay barn, chicken coop, old schoolhouse, deep well, 45 acres of open fields and 75 of woodland. We paid $2,000 down and hold a six-year contract on the remaining $3,000. That figures out to around $42 an acre... with all the buildings thrown in free.
Sound good? Believe me, it is! So don't just sit there. Some beautiful old farm may be just waiting up here in Minnesota for you to come and claim it.
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